Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hue specialties: Bún bò Hue and Banh Khoai

I spent five sweltering days in Hue last week doing little else other than eating the specialties of Hue, learning to cook the specialties of Hue and whinging about the heat. Eating a hot bowl of soup on a blazing day is sometimes said to cool the body down. I haven't yet experienced that--generally I find myself sitting on some 6 inch high plastic chair sweating my ass off while being looked at pityingly by the locals.

But it's worth it for the bun bo Hue, the special noodle soup of the area. Beef bones are simmered for ages with lemongrass and chili powder, which gives it a special zing.

I took a cooking class where I learned how to make it--here's the recipe I was given:

Hue Beef Noodle Soup - Bún bò Huế

1. Beef bone
2. Beef
3. Fresh onion
4. Chicken powder
5. Chili
6. Fresh rice noodle
7. Water
8. Vegetable
9. Lemongrass

1. Pour water to pot and chicken powder, you wait when water bolting
2. Put all of the beef bone in pot till 50 minutes (longer is better)
3. Chopping some lemongrass in the soup
4. Put some fresh rice noodles and beef in the bowl
5. Take beef soup from pot to pour to bowl
6. Put some fresh onion on top of the bowl

Make of this recipe what you will. I took copious notes but will probably ditch them and work on my own recipe some day, as the restaurant that I got this recipe from wasn't the best bowl (but not the worst) of bun bo Hue that I tried. Incidentally, the picture above is not the one that I made. In the class they certainly left out some key ingredients in the recipe that they included in the actual making, like the side of banana blossoms, bean sprouts and cilantro, or the shrimp paste that no dish would be complete without. I spent the majority of the class asking questions that remained unanswered and wondering when I'd get to eat.

This is the Banh Khoai I made in my class. Robyn at Eating Asia has a wonderful piece about banh khoai with pictures by her equally talented husband David. They show it so well that I don't need to make the effort.

The only thing I had to add was that this, like many foods that I enjoy, is essentially deep fried. (Not entirely, but you do add about a half inch of oil to the pan after you've folded it over into an omelette shape.) I'm finally starting to cop on to why I'm chubbing up. But at least this dish, as with most others in Vietnam, comes with a healthy supply of fresh veg to compliment it.

I am soldiering on with the cooking classes, but wondering if I will remember any of it by the time I have a home again. I take notes, ask questions and once a month send my new recipes to my parents. Yesterday I got an email from my father: "If you come back to California, I think we need to share a T-Fal Activfry." He may just be right.


  1. wow, surprised that they said to use chicken powder for bun bo hue!!?? it's supposed to be a beef and pork noodle soup... it's definitely a watered down version that they gave you...

  2. Is not there a substitute for MSG-chicken powder. The umami flavor is supposed to be based on meat, mushrooms and fish, so would adding more of those things obviate the need for MSG?

  3. RC, every time you add a comment I remember about 6 things I should have said. The picture in the post wasn't the one we made in class, this is:

    The class was at a not-great (but not terrible) restaurant and every recipe they gave me relied on chicken powder.

    The soup we made in class was better than one that I tried on the street but worse than 2 others.